Mountain View RVs

People living out of recreational vehicles are a common sight in Mountain View, above. The city is contemplating a “guaranteed income initiative” to help residents most in need.

Mountain View leaders say the city has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, providing financial assistance for struggling renters and small businesses. Now they may be taking it a step further: basic income for residents most in need.

The Mountain View City Council May 25 adopted a resolution that will set the stage for a “guaranteed income initiative,” using funds received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The resolution commits support for “the principles of basic income,” said Mayor Ellen Kamei, and authorizes participation in the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income Initiative (MGI).

The council was scheduled Tuesday to consider allocating $1 million for the cash-based pilot program. The program would be included as part of the city’s 2021-2022 budget, due for a June 22 adoption. Tuesday’s meeting was held after the Town Crier’s print deadline.

Kamei said the council will have a study session in the fall to discuss options for how the program might be developed.

“Community engagement will also be a key component of how such a program will be implemented in Mountain View,” Kamei said.

The council back in April recommended that city staff include the $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for three programs as part of its 2021-2022 budget. The universal basic income (UBI) program would be launched with the first $1 million. Community Services Agency, which houses and feeds underserved residents, would receive the second $1 million. A third $1 million would be used for an existing “Solidarity Fund,” providing financial assistance to immigrants.

According to a May 25 city staff report, the programs will be incorporated into a “strategic roadmap” aligning with city priorities that include addressing racial equity, income disparity and recovery from the pandemic.

Council members pointed to a model UBI program undertaken by the city of Stockton in 2019 that provided 125 residents $500 per month for 24 months.

“Unlike other government assistance programs that normally come with restrictions, … recipients would be empowered to make their own decisions on how to spend the money,” according to the staff report.

Process questions

Councilmember Lisa Matichak expressed concern at the May 25 meeting that the UBI program was being rushed.

“What was your thought process?” she asked supporters on the council. “Did you look at other options to help residents?”

Councilmember Margaret Abe-Koga answered in the affirmative.

“There’s been a growing interest by cities to implement such a program,” she said.

Added Councilmember Pat Showalter: “I keep coming back to sociologists and economists that say this is a very effective public assistance methodology.”

Councilmember Sally Lieber supported the resolution but agreed with Matichak about the process.

“My understanding of things was that we would have more discussion about it in the context of the budget and that it would come back that way,” Lieber said. “We are kind of jumping in with both feet, and the process has been a little bit ad hoc.”

“The intention would be that we would join this initiative with hands-on help from (MGI) and develop a program, learning about best practices,” said City Manager Kimbra McCarthy. “This was really an attempt for staff to be able to have help – MGI can give us hands-on help for free.”

Vice Mayor Lucas Ramirez supported the concept of UBI.

“UBI lifts people out of poverty in a way that one-time direct financial assistance just can’t,” he said. “This is a key first step. … (The resolution) gives us access to resources that will be essential if we want to ensure the success of the program.”

Lieber led an effort proposing alternative wording for the resolution, but Ramirez and Kamei noted the original wording was key to qualifying for matching state grant funding that could help the city in its participation.